Friday, 30 July 2010

Lucy O'Reilly Schell

Lucy with her Bugatti

At any classic racing festival today, there is likely to be a blue Delahaye, Maserati or Bugatti bearing the legend "L O'R Schell". Irish-American Lucy Schell is most famous as the owner of the semi-works Delahaye racing team from the 1930s onwards. Her husband was pre-war driver, Laury Schell, and her son Harry drove in Formula One in the 1950s. Lucy herself was also a fine racer who had competed with great success in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Lucy was born to a wealthy French-Irish-American family in 1896 or 1899, depending on the source consulted. Being a millionaire heiress with a strong adventurous streak was a great asset for a racer in the 1920s. She mainly raced in her husband's homeland of France. Her first major outing was the Grand Prix de la Baule in 1927, in which she came twelfth. She returned to La Baule the following year, again in a Bugatti T37A, and was eighth this time. 1928 was probably her most successful year, with a sixth place in the Voiturette class of the GP de la Marne and a superb win in the Coupe de Bourgogne Voiturette race, all in the Bugatti.

1929 brought Lucy back to La Baule where she competed in the 1500cc class, but she was out of luck this time, and was not classified. She turned to rallying, and drove to a Coupe des Dames and excellent overall finish in the Monte Carlo Rally, using a Talbot.

In 1932 she returned to Monte Carlo, as a navigator to Laury this time. They were seventh in their Bugatti. Later, in 1936, the same pairing was second in Monte Carlo, driving a Delahaye.

In 1934, Lucy had became involved with the ailing French manufacturer Delahaye. She and Laury rallied one in Monte Carlo and the Coupe des Alpes, with Lucy in the driving seat this time. A specially-tuned sports model, the 135S, was commissioned by her. It may have been this car in which she was fourth in the Criterium Paris-Nice in 1935. Soon she was to order several of these machines and found her famous racing team. Later, in 1937, she oversaw the development of the 145, a V12 4500cc car built for Grand Prix racing. Famous and successful drivers associated with the team over the years included Rene le Begue, who was excused from military service to compete in the 1940 Indy 500, and Rene Dreyfus, who was assisted to US citizenship by Lucy in the wake of Nazi anti-Semitism. In return, he won many races for the team, and went on to a glittering career.
An Ecurie Lucy O'Reilly Schell Maserati Tipo 8CTF, now owned by Dean Butler.

The Ecurie Lucy O'Reilly Schell was mainly associated with Delahaye cars, painted a distinctive French racing blue, but the stable also included a brace of Maserati 8CTFs for Indianapolis in 1940. They were a force to be reckoned with until the 1950s, mainly in sportscar races, including Le Mans, the Spa 24 Hours and later Brooklands events.

By the 1950s, motorsport had changed and it was left to Harry Schell to uphold the family name. He was killed in an accident in 1960. The date and place of Lucy’s death are unknown; she seems to faded from the scene and lived quietly after the deaths of her husband (in 1939) and son. She did not compete seriously after Laury’s death.

(Car photo copyright Rachel H-G. Portrait source unknown)

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